Activists defend Madison clinic

MADISON, Wis.--With less than two days' notice, activists organized 100 people to help to defend a new abortion clinic that opened on January 31 against anti-abortion protesters.

After the only physician in South Central Wisconsin who performed second-trimester abortions retired, the Madison Surgery Center announced that they would open a clinic to perform abortions on women who are 19 to 22 weeks pregnant.

When activist heard that hundreds of anti-choice protesters were being bused in from all over Wisconsin to oppose the clinic opening, the International Socialist Organization (ISO), along with the Students for Choice, NARAL Pro-Choice Wisconsin and Planned Parenthood, called an emergency clinic defense and counterprotest.

Clinic defenders arrived early enough to claim the street corner nearest the clinic and staged a speak-out, where members of different groups from Students for Choice to the Campus Antiwar Network spoke about why they were there.

ISO member Robin Gee recalled the days when abortion was illegal, and how poor women today still don't have access to abortion services that afford them a realistic choice. "It's not just a feminist issue; it's an economic justice issue," Gee said.

Though smaller in numbers, the pro-choice men and women brought confidence to the fight for abortion rights that the other side was clearly not expecting, having been on the offensive for so many years. They brought a variety of handmade signs that read, "Anti-Choice Is Anti-Woman," "Abortion Is Health Care Is a Civil Right" and "This Clinic Will Open."

As anti-choice protesters flooded the clinic, its defenders stood their ground, linked arms and chanted over their bullhorns "Right-to-life, your name's a lie, you don't care if women die!" "Whose clinic? Our clinic! Whose rights? Our rights!" and "Not the church, not the state, women must decide their fate!"

Anti-choice protesters were clearly routed by the abortion rights protesters--some sang songs or sought out confrontation with the counterprotesters, while many stood silent. Finally, they filed out across the street and onto their buses to chants of "We'll be back!" from the victorious pro-choice crowd that remained behind.

After the clinic's opponents left, pro-choice activists, invigorated by what was for most attendees their first clinic defense, discussed how to organize bigger and stronger. There was a sense that this was just the beginning, that we could not only succeed in making sure that the clinic stayed open but go on the offensive and expand women's access to abortion and other reproductive services.

Nathan Maney, for whom this was his first major protest, said, "The fact that there were droves of people there, that we held our ground even though we were the minority, and that we prepared this on such short notice is enough to make me feel very proud to be involved in this and, one day, when we win full abortion rights for women, I will think back to this day and smile."

A public hearing was held the following Wednesday, on February 4, after which the University of Wisconsin (UW) Hospital board voted in favor of the clinic. The clinic is owned by UW Hospital, its doctor group and Meriter Hospital, all of which have given their approval.